Suni Lee Wins Gold For USA In Gymnastics ─ It's Her Moment, Let's Not Bring Simone Biles Into It

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Suni Lee and Simone Biles at the Tokyo Olympics

Suni Lee has taken home a gold medal for Team USA for women’s all-around gymnastics, but there seems to be a Simone Biles-shaped shadow over her win.

While Lee was celebrating her medal in Tokyo, news coverage of the win in Sports Illustrated claimed, “Sunisa Lee won Simone Biles’s gold medal,” and CBC Olympics stated, “With no Simone Biles in the all-around final, it was Suni Lee's time to shine.”

The comments, while not intended to be harsh, read as an unnecessary diminishment of a young woman’s success.

Let’s face it, most of us did not expect Lee to win a gold medal. Many presumed Biles had it in the bag until her Olympics departure.

However, viewing the win as some kind of consequence of Biles’ withdrawal is an unfair dismissal of Lee’s undeniable talent.

The way people are referencing Simone Biles undermines Suni Lee's Olympic Gold accomplishment.

Overcoming family tragedy, injury, and personal struggles, Lee’s win was unlikely but utterly deserved.

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Lee grappled with family tragedies before the Olympics.

In 2019, Lee’s father, John, became paralyzed from the waist down after being injured in a tree-felling accident.

Lee’s father has been one of her biggest supporters from day one, building her a balance beam in the family’s backyard for her to practice, and just days later, she made her senior debut at the US gymnastics championships.

Then in 2020, Lee lost her aunt and uncle to Covid.

She is a woman who has overcome personal loss and grief to stand on the Olympic podium, and that fact should not go unacknowledged.

Lee overcame an injury to win the gold medal.

Lee’s Olympic journey has also been marred by injuries which no doubt proves how her win defies odds.

An ankle injury that left the 18-year-old with a noticeable limp had kept Lee out of competition as recently as 3 weeks ago. Her vibrant floor routines certainly didn’t go easy on the injury so if that’s not resilience then what is?

Lee was also a leading force in capturing a silver medal for Team USA in team gymnastics, securing a place on the podium even without Biles, the GOAT of the sport.

Even with one woman down and an ankle injury, Lee is a force to be reckoned with.

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Lee is the first Hmong-American gold medalist.

Lee’s win is also symbolic in other ways. She is the first Hmong-American Olympic gymnast and now the first Hmong-American gold medalist.

The Minnesota native is from a community filled with former Hmong refugees who, like Lee’s family, resettled in the US after the Vietnam war.

Gymnastics is undeniably inaccessible. Balance beams are much more difficult to give to a child than a soccer ball.

Nearly 60% of Hmong Americans are low-income and the cost of gymnastics is high, yet Lee’s win is an exciting example of new possibilities for the Hmong diaspora.

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People need to stop pitting Biles and Lee against each other.

Recognizing Lee’s win as anything other than a product of her own success ignores the reality of sports.

Competitors come and go for many reasons, and out-lasting your toughest competition is as much part of winning as working on your own skills.

But perhaps the most unfair part of the Biles/Lee comparison is the undermining of the friendship and sportsmanship between the two.

Lee spoke of the words of advice Biles gave to her before the win, and one look at Biles’ Instagram story shows that she has nothing but love for her teammate.

These women are greats on their own and great together, each should receive credit where it’s due.

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Alice Kelly is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York. Catch her covering all things social justice, news, and entertainment. Keep up with her Twitter for more.